Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

Outline 001

4.    The sources of Christian Theology.

Our knowledge of God and His relationship to mankind must of necessity come by revelation. There are various ways that this revelations can be made. Scripture tells that nature speaks of the power and the glory of God and reveals God sufficiently to encourage humankind to seek after Him and worship Him. (Psalm 19:1-4; Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-34; Romans 1:19-21).

Christian experience, the history of Christian doctrine and the writtings of men of God during the history of the church are also important and useful sources of study of Christian Theology; but neither one nor all of them can be considered as sufficient or primary.

Owing to the fact that, through the entry of sin, the world is not what God intended it to be and man`s heart and understanding are darkened, God could only make His real nature and His cure for sin known by a special revelation.

b.The Primary Source of Christian Theology.

This special revelation has been made by God to chosen individuals through whom He might preserve a concrete and permanent record. This record is the Bible. "The scriptures claim to be the basis and final court of appeal concerning truth about God." Through centuries of testing they have proved the right to that claim through their own intrinsic value and power.

The true, full revelation of God is found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and the Bible is the record of that revelation in promise and fulfilment. The revelation is supernatural from man`s point of view, though perfectly natural from God`s.

The Bible, therefore, is the primary and authentic source for our study and for Christian teaching. " Whatever is not contained therein or may not be proved thereby, cannot be enjoined as an article of faith. "We must assume also that all revelation made either in nature or in the inner consciousness of man, will not, if it is true and of God, contradict or essentially add to the great principles of the Bible.

It must be remembered that the inner witness and the quickening of the Holy Spirit is as essential to the understanding of the Bible as it was to its original inspitation.

c.Two extreme of approach.

There are two extreme approaches to the Bible.


Rationalism holds that reason is the ultimate authority of all truth, therefore, scripture is recognised as authorative only on the ground that it can be harmonised with the conclusions of reason or demonstrated satisfactorily to reason. This presumes that man has found a satisfactory reason for everything, which is not so.

Much that man considers rational because of his increased discoveries, was once considered irrational. It also presumes that man`s reason is utterly reliable. This is also not true. It has been weakened and often perverted by sin. as a result of this, man has many blind spots.


Every spiritually minded person is mystic to a certain extent. He could know no conscious communion with God otherwise. But the mystical approach to the Bible discounts reason too much and depends exclusively on inner illumination. In its extreme form mysticism holds that God may give a new and added revelation as authoritative to the recipient as that accorded to the authors of the scriptures. This is as dangerous as rationalism.

d.The attitude of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church makes the decrees of the church the ultimate source of authority and puts them even above the scripture. Divine revelation, therefore is still going on and even the Pope, speaking ex-cathedra, is the voice of God even though it may be contrary to scripture.

e. Modern Outlooks.


Liberalism dates back to the latter part of the 19th century with German scholars who began to doubt the authenticity of the Pentateuch and other parts of the Old Testament. It was originally called the findings of higher criticism, which dealt  with the authenticity and reliability of the books of the Bible, as against Lower Criticism, which was Textual Criticism and has as its aim nothing other than the discovery of the original words of scripture.

The liberal postition has gone through different phases and various forms. Generally speaking,  however, it treats the Bible as a purely human book and has little time for the supernatural and the miraculous. It throws a great deal of doubt on the veracity of the scriptures, and does not consider them as the revelation and word of God.

This attitude leads to doubts as to the diety of Christ, the virgin birth, the resurrection and the real objective value of the death of Christ. There is little doubt that the liberal outlook has largely been the reason for the rise of the godlessness and indifference to the Christian faith which has become prevalent since the first world war.

Barthianism or Neo-Orthodoxy.

Karl Barth was born in 1886 and died in 1969. He emerged from his theological training holding the liberal views which were common in Germany at that time. Then came the upheaval in his life which commenced at the beginning of world war one while he was a pastor of a small town on the German side of Switzerland. The upheaval resulted in the writting of his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans.

The commentary was "epoch making" and caused quite a crisis among theologians. It was not like other commentaries; there was no discussion of authorship, date, background etc. It has been called "an enormous string of half disconnected musings". It is the result of Barth`s search for reality, of his dissillusionment with the Christianity of the day.

To Barth the search for God through natural religion was futile. God was the "Wholly Other" -the infinite, the utterly indescribable by definition, "utterly beyond the range of human words and thought". But this transcendent, inexpressible One broke into time and space in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus only by revelation can we know anything about God.

Karl Barth as a thinker was never afraid to change his views. He found it necessary to write three different comentaries to the Epistle to the Romans.The upheaval which commenced in 1914 progressed throughout his life and he was continually seeking to think his way through to what he felt to be a right conception of the nature of God, revelation and the Christian faith.

There are points where he is challenging and curative to the theological attitude and atmosphere of the time and there are points where he is dangerous to evangelical belief.The danger lies in the proximity of his views to evangeliacal belief. The danger lies in the proximity of his views to evangelical thought and teaching.

This is why the system of thought which he originated is so often called Neo-Orthodoxy. It is impossible in this short introduction to do justice to Barth`s various ideas and conception of truth. It needs to be said that he was a prolific writter; his "Church Dogmatics" alone extends to 12 volumes, each runing between 400 and 900 pages long.

It would advantageous to know where the difficulties arise in his writtings.

The Word of God.

Barth acknowledges the authority and inspired character of the scriptures and the fact that God is revealed in them and as such he holds that they are true. At the same time he admits the Bible`s "capacity for errors" and allows the liberal critical point of view on many points.

Often the Bible is"true in so far as God speaks through it. But it may be false in so far as the same passage may be factually wrong." (The Christian Message" p146) He seems to endeavor to maintain high doctrines of revelation and inspiration without at the same time being willing to defend the veracity and hstoricity of the Biblical writtings.It would seem that he is saying that the Bible is both true ad false at the same time.

The Bankruptcy of Natural Theology.

Here the Evangelical can identify with Barth`s conclusions. While it is true that experience and the Bible teach that man can, through nature and history, become aware of God, this is far from saying that the limited revelation which may come from these sources is sufficient basis on which to build a whole theology.

The Christian is liable to endeavour to bolster up his declaration of the faith in this sceptial age by finding neutral, common ground on which "objective" proofs of God can be built up. Barth says that natural theology is false and useless in man`s search for and finding of God. The approach to man has to come from God, and we, as Christians, must proclaim the word of God, declare His truth and let him do His work of Revelation.

The Christ centered approach to God and Reconciliation.

The core of all Barth`s teaching here is the fact of the sovereign Grace of God and that all Grace is centered in Christ. In His later treatises he concentrated all this in the fact of the union of the divine and human natures of the person of Christ.To this he gave the name "covenant" and all salvation and reconciliation is found in this "covenant".

Colin Brown in his book, suggests,"In view of thhe covenant, Barth makes election the "sum of the gospel", for in the union of humanity and divinity of Christ God has bound the whole of humanity to Himself. In choosing Christ, God has chosen humankind to be his covenant partner. This is key to understanding the divine nature. For this is the most important thing about God. For above all man is the covenant partner of God.

The world and the universe came into being because of the "Covenant". Moreover we only know what man is when we see him in the light of this covenant. When Barth turns to the question of sin, he sees it basically as a reaction against the covenant. The reconciliation effected by Christ on the cross is interupted by the same principle.

Christ died for all humankind absolutely. Because God deals with all humankind through Christ and all humankind are in Christ already, all are reconciled. The law of God comes to all men as fulfilled law, for Christ has fulfilled all the law. The difference between the believer and the unbeliever is that the believer knows that he has been reconciled, whereas the unbeliever has yet to come to realise it. He is still living the life of the unreconciled. The same principle brings Barth to the brink of universalism, but he stops short at the last moment.

Instead of following through the logic of concluding that all men will be saved, since all have been reconciled, Barth ventures to suggest that some may possibly still try to live the life of the unreconciled throughout eternity; even though this is fundamentally impossible.

This is not according to the scriptures.God does indeed deal with humankind through Christ, but Christ is not equally all things to all men. To some He is Saviour, to others He will be Judge. According to the witness of the New Testament. God deals with humankind in two ways. He deals with them as they are in themselves, and He deals with them as they are in Christ. These  two spheres are not identical. They overlap. All men are by nature in the first and some are by grace in the second.


Humanism is really a denial of all that the Christian Gospel stands for. It states that man has sufficient power and goodness in himself to the highest heights of human living quite apart from God. God is quite unnessary. Humanism is the natural corollary of materialistic evolution.Man is developing into super man and will finally by his own efforts rule the world,subdue all opposing forces and introduce Eutopia. 

5.     Systematic Theology.

There are various methods used in the study of Systematic Theology but the subjects included are the same  and the most usual method is that which folllows the more logical and natural order of the subjects, each subject naturally following on from the previous one.

The subjects included in a full course of Systematic Theology are the following.


This deals with the Christian Revelation, the Inspiration of the Scriptures and the Scriptures as the Divine rule of faith or the Canon of the Holy Scriptures. These subjects are usually called the Doctrine of the Word of God.


Includes the Doctrine of God, His being, nature, attributes and the Doctrine of the Trinity.


The doctrine of the world, dealing with creation and providence.


The doctrine of man, his creation and nature.


The Doctrine of Sin.


The Doctrine of the Person of Christ, His deity, humanity and sinlessness.

Soteriology. (Objective).

The doctrine of the work of Christ, the Atonement, the provision for Salvation.

Soteriology. (Subjective).

The doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit., the administration of Redemption, i.e. the application of the atonement in the works of Grace and the experience of Salvation which includes prevenient grace, repentance, faith, justification, regeneration, adoption and sanctification. Strictly speaking it also includes Christian Ethics and ecclesiology or the doctrine of the Church, but these are often dealt with in a seperate section.


Includes the discussion of Church organisation, worship and the sacrements.


The doctrine of the last things. This includes the immortality of the soul, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, the final judgement, the future state of the impenitent, the blessedness of the saints and the final consumation of all things. The course covered by these notes includes some discussion of all these doctrines except Cosmology. 


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